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Originally published in The Weekly Packet, February 2, 2023
Skaters remain hopeful, despite rough start to ice skating season

Skaters remain hopeful, despite rough start to ice skating season

On January 26, 40-degree weather melted the ice and closed the Peninsula Skating Association Rink in Blue Hill.

Photo by Tressa Versteeg Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Tressa Versteeg

For many, ice skating is essential to not only passing the time but also enjoying a Maine winter. However, this skating season has been both delayed and inconsistent.

“The first time we skated this year was after Christmas. And last year, the first time we skated was Thanksgiving,” said Alex Drenga, who volunteers to help manage the ice for the Peninsula Skating Association (PSA) rink in Blue Hill.

Typically by January, fields have been flooded and frozen into rinks and ponds are securely solid. This year has not been the case. According to the National Weather Service, average high temperatures for November 2022, December 2022 and January 2023 have been above freezing. These temperatures have caused precipitation to ping-pong between rain, snow, ice, more rain and frozen slush, wreaking havoc on ice conditions.

“These days where it’s cold at night, and then it’s above freezing during the day is the worst,” Drenga said. “The weather this year has just been like the perfect storm of making [managing the ice] difficult.”

In a typical year, taking care of the ice is time consuming. It involves clearing the rink of snow and then flooding the rink at night to flatten and resurface the ice. Early on, building up layers of smooth ice to form a base layer is essential—which they haven’t had this year. “If you don’t have that you’re stuck,” Drenga said.

The PSA rink provides free skating and pick-up hockey every day when ice conditions allow. This winter, Drenga estimates the hockey group has only played around a dozen times. They’ve also delayed their annual pond hockey tournament.

“People are really disappointed. You don’t realize how many people actually use something until it’s not there,” he said.

Drenga has also observed poor ice conditions at Lily Pond in Deer Isle, which has long been a popular skating spot. Public access to Lily Pond is managed by Island Heritage Trust, who Drenga works for. So far this winter, the ice has not been safe, according to Drenga and avid pond skaters like Gene Koch.

“In terms of heating your house, it’s been a good winter,” Koch said, but not so much for skating. “I think the weirdest thing is not having a consistent number of hard freezes in a row…And you gotta be safe with ice. You know, it’s hard to call.”

Koch, an artist in Stonington, checks the ice at many ponds around the Island. Skating is an important activity that “excites” and “stimulates” him in the winter, for both getting outdoors and his artwork.

“It’s a beautiful feeling…the flow that you get with skating. And I translate that a lot to my drawing,” he said. When a thin layer of snow hits the ice, Koch uses skating as a way to draw. In the past, he’s also photographed the ever-changing bubbles, cracks and surfaces of frozen ponds, installed sculpture in the ice, and created a series of scored plexiglass influenced by skate marks.

He also notes that Lily Pond has been a gathering place for Islanders for decades and in recent years participation has been up. He recalls there being 50 or 60 people skating on the pond at once last winter. “Those are fun days in the wintertime to have people out there,” Koch said.

For the Blue Hill Peninsula, Drenga said the PSA hockey group is important for year-round residents. He said he’s made the majority of his friends on the ice. “There’s a sense of community within the skating group that I don’t find anywhere else,” he said.

Despite a rough start to the skating season, both Drenga and Koch are optimistic that good ice is on its way, as February is forecasted to have more consistent freezing temperatures. PSA rescheduled the Peninsula Pond Hockey Tournament to Saturday, February 18, with a rain date of February 19. IHT and Healthy Island Project hope to hold Lily Pond festivities one day during February school break.

Thinking about future winters, Koch and Drenga agreed it is hard to know what to expect.

“[This winter] might be an indicator of climate change somewhat. It might also just be the erratic quality of weather on the coast here,” Koch said. “Maybe it’s an indication, but maybe it’s just an aberration? I don’t know.”

Drenga’s focus for the future is keeping skating available, no matter what the weather does because it’s an important tradition to preserve.

“The idea that you might have kids that don’t grow up skating and you live in Maine is kind of screwed up,” he said.

Drenga’s dream is an open-air refrigerated brinewater rink—similar to The Rink at Thompson’s Point in Portland. Though he noted “there’s nothing better than skating on natural ice,” a built rink would not only be more climate resistant but also could double the length of the skating season and allow for PSA to run community and youth programming.

“Having a flat surface, with a brinewater system, and a roof would give us ice whenever it’s below 50 degrees,” Drenga said.” You can provide the skating tradition even if the weather isn’t doing what it needs to do.”

Though the price tag of such a rink is much out of the range of the PSA, it is something Drenga hopes could be possible one day, to secure Maine’s skating tradition.

“If I won the lottery, that would be the first thing I would do. I’d build a skating rink here,” he said.

To check on current PSA rink conditions in Blue Hill or inquire about the Peninsula Pond Hockey tournament, check the Peninsula Skating Association Facebook page or email